Image via WikipediaThis weekend, my son and I had the great pleasure of going to the Chicago Star Trek Convention. We had a marvelous time meeting a variety of stars from nearly all of the shows except for the Voyager and JJ-prise folks, who weren’t at this one. I laughed so hard at some of the antics of Dominic Keating, Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes that I thought I was going to hurt myself. Conner Trinneer, John de Lancie, Rene Auberjonois, and Nana Visitor were also highly entertaining. Rene and Nana even did a performance of “Cross Your Hearts” to support their favorite charity, Doctors Without Borders. If you’ve been looking for a good charity to give a donation, check them out. Check out Alien Voices as well. Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie have worked hard on audio presentations of some classic sci-fi works.
Leonard Nimoy gave us a poignant farewell, as this was his last official Star Trek convention appearance. It was so hard to say ‘good-bye’ to him. When you’re 80 years old, though, you have to suck the marrow out of life. May you live long and prosper, Mr. Nimoy, and thoroughly ENJOY your retirement!
The highlight for me, however, was when Nichelle Nichols gave this amazing talk about how she’d become Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. Then she brought me to tears when she spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King urging her to stay on the show when she resigned after the first season. He described what it meant to the African-American community for her to be in that role, to have an African-American woman portrayed as a Starfleet officer, an equal. She told us about Gene Roddenberry handing her back her resignation two days later, torn up into tiny pieces. At the photo-op right after the session, I told her that I was a doctor today because of her role. She gave me a huge hug and said “Thank you!” I treasure that moment.
This, of course, means I must share with you, my Trusty Friends, the story of how Lt. Uhura Created A Doctor.
I was destined for something in the science or medical field from early childhood. I remember reading books on nurses in first grade. My favorite shows were Star Trek, Emergency, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman. When a neighborhood friend sprained a finger, I splinted it with 2 popsicle sticks and a couple rubber bands. When other kids were writing fan mail to Farrah Fawcett and Erik Estrada, I was writing our local TV meteorologist, Paul Joseph, asking about tornadoes. Our Girl Scout troop leader decided that we Junior Scouts should work on our Collection badges one week. I was in my ‘Geology/Paleontology phase’ in 4th grade. I didn’t have any dinosaurs to bring, so I gathered up my collection of very cool geodes, quartz crystals, and agates. The other girls brought in their collections of cute little stuffed kittens and puppies, took one look at my box of rocks, stared at me like I’d just grown 2 alien antennae on the top of my head, and took a step away. That was the point in life when I realized I Was Different.
When I was growing up in the early 1970’s, women had exactly 5 career possibilities: homemakers, maids, schoolteachers, nurses, and secretaries. Now, if someone wants to have a career doing that, awesome. Do your best at it, and love your career. Even at a young age, though, I knew those paths weren’t quite right for me. The major female role models in my life–my grandmas, aunt, and mother were either secretaries, nurses, homemakers, or teacher, but I was called to something Different.
The only women who were doing anything other than The Approved 5 Female Careers ™ were women in science fiction. Of course, there was Princess Leia–a spunky, beautiful Senator who also happened to know how to handle a blaster better than some of the guys. She quickly became one of my heroes.
Then there was Lt. Uhura.
By the time I was old enough to remember Star Trek, the show was in syndication, so I was able to watch it regularly. Here was a woman who was not a nurse, not a yeoman, but a full-fledged Starfleet Officer. She was serving on the bridge, an officer equal with the men. She did her job with professionalism and great competence. She was respected by the other officers and crew. If I could have joined Starfleet and served with her, I would have done it in a heartbeat. I wanted to be a highly skilled, professional woman, respected by those around me. I wanted to be just like Lt. Uhura.
Fortunately, when I told my family that I wanted to be a doctor, they didn’t laugh. They didn’t even try to discourage me. They’d come to expect their daughter to be Different. I think they might have missed the antennae growing out of my head that the other girls in my school saw. My grandma who was a nurse was absolutely thrilled at my decision to become a doctor, and her support meant the world to me. I hope I can be as good a support for my son, who has decided to become an actor. This is in spite of the fact that his decision scares the crap out of me. Having Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes repeat a litany of Terrible Things that Happen to Actors like drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide did not help me one bit. Thank you, Brent and Jonathan, for making my anxiety even worse. You’ll make my psychiatrist very happy about the extra visits I’m sure I’ll need.
Ms. Nichelle, you said ‘thank you’ to me. I want to thank you, though, for staying on Star Trek, for playing that role of a Starfleet bridge officer, and inspiring a shy young girl to pursue her dream, even when it wasn’t a ‘cultural norm’. Thank you for giving us Lt. Uhura.